Do Women With Sex Addiction Have High Levels of the Hormone DHEA-S?

High blood levels of a male hormone called DHEA-S do not reliably indicate whether a woman will experience symptoms of sex addiction, according to recent findings from a team of Iranian researchers. Women typically produce relatively low amounts of the hormone DHEA-S (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate), which naturally occurs in much larger amounts in men. In a study presented in 2015 to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions, researchers from Iran’s Islamic Azad University sought to determine if unusually high blood levels of this hormone in women are linked to increased chances of developing problems with sex addiction. The researchers concluded that DHEA-S levels vary by small amounts in women and do not reliably reflect any given woman’s sex addiction risks.

Women and DHEA-S

Men and women produce DHEA-S in the adrenal glands, a pair of organs located on top of the kidneys that play a primary role in the body’s endocrine system. On its own, the hormone is much weaker than the main male sex hormone, testosterone. However, men rely on DHEA-S to help make stronger sex hormones. Women also rely on DHEA-S to a lesser extent to make the main female sex hormone, estrogen. In pregnant women, levels of the hormone increase sharply, and DHEA-S plays a critical role in the formation of a pregnancy-specific form of estrogen, called estriol, in the placenta. Women with high DHEA-S levels outside of the context of pregnancy may develop a condition called hyperandrogenism, an adrenal gland ailment which produces symptoms that can include male-like hair growth on the body and face, hair loss on the scalp and acne. Some women with hyperandrogenism also develop an increased sex drive. Very high DHEA-S levels in a woman or man may indicate the presence of certain types of tumors on one or both adrenal glands. In addition, girls who start producing fairly large amounts of the hormone at an early age may go on to develop symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (partially characterized by unusually high output of male sex hormones) during adulthood.

Sex Addiction in Women

Women can develop issues with sex addiction just like men, although research on the subject has largely focused on male manifestations of the condition. Results from a 2014 study review published in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Prevention & Treatment indicate that distinguishing attributes of sex addiction in women include the overlapping presence of love addiction-related symptoms, heightened chances of being in a relationship with a partner also affected by some form of addiction and heightened chances of being in a psychologically/emotionally unhealthy relationship.

Women, Sex Addiction and DHEA-S Levels

Although women with heightened DHEA-S levels may develop an increased sex drive, the presence of increased sexual desire is not necessarily an indicator of the dysfunctional symptoms that distinguish sex addiction. In the study presented to the 2nd International Conference on Behavioral Addictions, the Islamic Azad University researchers used a small-scale project with 60 participants to gauge the potential impact of a woman’s circulating levels of DHEA-S on the chances that she will develop a damaging, addictive relationship to sexual behavior, sexual thought or sexual fantasy. The women enrolled in the project ranged in age from 18 to 45. The researchers used blood tests to measure the DHEA-S levels for each individual. They used a screening test called the Female Sexual Function Index, as well as a second test called the Visual Analogue Scale, to reveal possible cases of sex addiction in the participant group. After analyzing their data, the researchers found that there was some variation between the DHEA-S levels found in the women whose Female Sexual Function Index scores indicated the possible presence of sex addiction and the levels found in the women whose scores did not indicate the presence of addictive sexual thought or behavior. They came to the same conclusion when they examined the results of the Visual Analogue Scale. However, the DHEA-S variations were not great in either case, and the researchers could find no reason to believe that women’s blood levels of the hormone consistently or significantly impact their chances of developing sex addiction. The study’s authors note that DHEA-S also appears in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). They believe that levels of the hormone in this system may have a greater effect on women’s sex addiction risks than levels found circulating in the bloodstream.

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